1 May 2016

Big Band Scene (May 2016)


It is May. It is Festival time. Brighton’s major cultural event. Where we look forward to seeing internationally renowned big bands.  With the tickets sold out weeks before the concert.  But not in 2016.  Fortunately there is The Fringe.  There are more events listed in the gig guide at the foot of this column than there are in the main festival.  Where, as far as I can tell, the sole jazz event is a trio.  

Things were very different twenty-five years ago.  As well as The Fringe, there was a Jazz Festival, an integral part of the main festival.  This was sponsored to the tune of £10000 by Camel cigarettes. I’m not sure how far that would go these days; just about enough to rent a government minister’s spare house for a month or two. But one year, the main festival organizers decided to use this grant towards clearing their debts from the previous year.  Since this money was not being used to support jazz, the sponsorship was withdrawn.  

Which leads me on to the topic of band finance, as promised in SJM42 (July 2015).  I am addressing these comments to anyone considering starting a big band. Running a big band involves expenditure and finding ways of meeting it. 

There are all sorts of expenses. When starting up a band, charts are needed. A quick search of the internet shows that the prices vary from free up to around £60 each. If downloaded, they require printing.  A scan through a typical library indicates an average of around 40 sheets for a complete set of big band parts.  So an estimated average of £1 per chart involving the cost of paper and ink/toner in addition to any purchase charges.

A band needs somewhere to rehearse. It would take quite a large garage to accommodate a seventeen piece ensemble.  So a rehearsal space must be found. Usually a room in a pub, a school, a public hall or some other venue. Which often comes at a price.  Hiring this space can be a big expense.  Fortunately there are pub managers happy to accept the argument that big band musicians have thirsts to match, and are glad for the extra sales, and so don’t charge for the hire of the room.  Especially if the band plays for free a few times each year.

Quite often a band is directed by the musician who set it up.  But not always.  A few years ago, failing to find a regular musical director, The Sussex Jazz Orchestra decided to make it a paid position. This has proved of great benefit to the band.  Not only raising the performance standards, but also renewing enthusiasm within the band.  This is now the SJO’s major expenditure.  More than four times the cost of room hire, the last time that was incurred.  But well worth it.

Costs arise on gigs. These may be one off, such as the purchase of a large display banner identifying the band. This can be particularly useful at outdoor events where the audience is often made up of passers-by who stop to listen.  Other expenditure can include parking charges, deps’ expenses, performing rights fees, insurance, and for some venues, paying the sound engineer.

These are examples of outgoings, not an exhaustive list. I am sure that experienced band managers can quite easily provide examples of others. Money must be found to meet this inevitable expenditure. In the United States in the last century Charlie Barnet had a large private income.   He used his money to create a successful well regarded big band. So that is one solution. Become wealthy and underwrite your band’s costs.  If you do not have a large inheritance or are not a recently retired City trader, other means must be found.  I intend to discuss these in a future column.


This month we feature Ska-Kestra.

This occasional 20 piece big band has reconvened to play at The Brunswick in the evening of Saturday June 18th (Details next month).  Ska-Kestra was created in 2007, when the local ska/funk/jazz band Ska Toons had the interesting idea of expanding into a big band to provide over the top, off beat (ska), dance music for the Brighton Fringe Festival.

This worked so well that they continued for the next five years to perform in The Fringe, initially at The Old Market, then at Concorde 2, to sell out audiences until 2012.  Since then they have met a couple of times at Christmas to play a pub gig – more a reunion than a restart.

The line-up is five saxes, five trumpets, four trombones, keyboard, guitar, bass and drums.  Vocals are provided by Mattie Eels and the guitarist Michael Munday.   The band is directed by Mark Bassey.

The repertoire includes Andy Pickett’s high-octane arrangements of ska classics such as James Bond, A Shot in the Dark and Napoleon Solo together with Mingus’s riotous Haitian Fight Song. The music is very much for dancing, rather than just sitting down and relaxing with a drink as can be seen by visiting. http://youtu.be/2_fTb6GA7Kc

For further information, or to book the band, contact Peter Thompson, 07855 008116, contactpeter@btinternet.com


Finally, a brief review.  

As part of the Big Band @Brunswick programme, Straight No Chaser led by Alex Bondonno played the music of Thad Jones at The Brunswick on Sunday April 3rd.  Not as advertised in this column, due to a misunderstanding, the music of Stan Kenton.

The band warmed up each set with a Count Basie classic from the days when Thad played with that band, before getting down to the tunes that Thad wrote and arranged. For some of the charts, Martijn Van Galen reprised the rôle of Thad, directing the band from the front. 

The soloing was high quality, and the band played the high speed ensemble sections with élan and precision, making it seem all so easy. Which I know from experience it is not, since Thad’s arrangements require accuracy in both tuning and timing.  Although this Thad Jones special may well have been a one off, I hope that we shall be given the opportunity to hear some of this music again at future performances of SNC.

Alex Bondonno, Jim Cheek, Jane Tuff, Ali Helsby, Andy Pickett;  Saxes.

Doug Logan, Paul Nieman, Dave Macari, Phil Laybourn; Trombones.
Nick Trish, John Brown, Chris Coull, Martijn Van Galen; Trumpets.

David Beebee, Piano; Alex Steer, Guitar; Marianne Windham, Bass; Noel Joyce, Drums.



Next month:  More news and views and perhaps another band profile.  If you would like your band featured, and I have not already contacted you, please get in touch.  Or if there is anything else, such as gig news, or feedback on this column, that you would like me to include in June’s Big Band Scene, please send it to me by Wednesday May 25th. My email address is g8aac@yahoo.co.uk.


[Photo of Straight No Chaser big band at The Brunswick, Hove taken by Patrick Billingham.]


Big Band Gigs and Events for May – Early June 

(† means a regular monthly gig, bold italic type indicates part of a regular series.)


Sunday May 1st

†12:45 – 3:00 pm, Sounds of Swing Big Band at The Horseshoe Inn Hotel, Posey Green, Windmill Hill, Herstmonceux, East Sussex BN27 4RU (02035 645225).   Free entry.

7:30 – 10:00  pm, Big Band @Brunswick: The Dave Williams band at The Brunswick, 3, Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF (01273 733984).  Free entry with collection.


Wednesday May 4th.

†8:30 pm, The Fred Woods Big Band at the Horsham Sports Club, Cricketfield Road, Horsham RH12 1TE (01403 254628).  £2 (Club members free.)


Friday May 6th.

8:00  pm, Brighton Festival Fringe: Kings of the Jazz Trumpet: Straight No Chaser with Steve Waterman, Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton BN1 1UF (01273).  £10/£8.


Saturday May 7th.

2:00 – 5:00 pm, The Maestro Big Band at The Ark Bar & Restaurant, West Quay, Newhaven, East Sussex, BN9 9BP (01273 517808).  Free entry.

7:30 pm, Brighton Festival Fringe: Terry Pack’s Trees plus The Cloggz at Wagner Hall, Regency Road, Brighton, BN1 2RT (01273).   £12/£10.

7:30 pm, Brighton Festival Fringe: South London Jazz Orchestra at St. Mary’s Church, 61, St. James St, Brighton BN2 1PR (01273).  £10/£8.


Sunday May 8th

3:00 – 5:00 pm, Big Band Sounds at The Roebuck Inn, Lewes Road, Laughton, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 6BG, (01323 811081).   Free entry.


Tuesday May 10th.

†8:00 – 10:30 pm, The Ronnie Smith Big Band at The Humming Bird Restaurant, Main Terminal Building, Shoreham Airport, West Sussex,  BN43 5FF (01273 452300).  Free entry with collection.


Sunday May 15th.

7:00 – 9:00 pm, Brighton Festival Fringe: The Sussex Jazz Orchestra with Mark Bassey at The Round Georges, 14-15 Sutherland Road, Brighton BN2 0EQ, (01273 691833).   Free entry with collection. 


Sunday May 22nd.

†12:30 – 3:00 pm, The South Coast Big Band at The Junction Tavern, 99 Station Road, Polegate, East Sussex BN24 6EB (01323 482010).   Free entry.


Friday May 27th.

8 pm, The South Coast Big Band "Basie & Beyond" Concert at Underground Theatre, 1, Grove Road, Eastbourne BN21 4TL (08432 891980).  £12 (£11 in advance).

†8:30 – 11:00 pm, The Les Paul Big Band (Family & Friends evening) in Patcham, BN1, £5.  For further details contact Les (01273 558009) les@lespaulbigband.co.uk  (Bring your own refreshments.)


Wednesday June 1st.

†8:30 pm, The Fred Woods Big Band at the Horsham Sports Club, Cricketfield Road, Horsham RH12 1TE (01403 254628).  £2 (Club members free.)


Sunday June 5th

†12:45 – 3:00 pm, Sounds of Swing Big Band at The Horseshoe Inn Hotel, Posey Green, Windmill Hill, Herstmonceux, East Sussex BN27 4RU (02035 645225).   Free entry.

8:00 – 10:30  pm, Brighton Festival Fringe: Big Band @Brunswick: One World Jazz Suite – Part 2: The Paul Busby Bigger Band at The Brunswick, 3, Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF (01273 733984).  £5.




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